“This is Year Zero.”
Such an announcement that should have brought joy to Phirum, but instead, it brought nothing but pain and fear. It was six months since Pol Pot made that announcement and now the entire country of Cambodia was in chaos. ‘New Ones’, those that lived in the cities, were driven out into the country side and forced into the rice fields to farm side by side with the ‘Old Ones’. Families were disbanded, essentially banned by the Khmer Rouge.
Phirum sniffled quietly, hoping that the Khmer Rouge soldiers wouldn’t hear him. He knew that he didn’t want to be sent to the Killing Fields. Rumors were whispered in the darkest of nights that spoke of those farmers who angered the soldiers and weren’t killed immediately, they were sent to prisons for worse treatment. Though, he didn’t know what could be worse than the treatment that he was already enduring.
A cupful of rice to last two days—no complaining was allowed. Before Phirum’s eyes, his friends slowly wasted away before never waking up again. He could only hope...that he would survive...and that no one would tell that he wasn’t one of the Old Ones. But, Phirum also knew that it was just a matter of time before someone revealed what he really was.
Phirum stretched. His back and legs were not used to the labor that involved tending to rice patties, and he feared that that alone would tag him to be sent elsewhere. He moved to take a step forward and a soldier grasped his shoulder in a rough grip. Phirum lowered his head. He knew what was coming; he had witnessed this played out a dozen other times.
A set of strong hands grasped his shoulders and defeated, he allowed them to bind and blindfolded him. Cruelly, they threw him into an awaiting cart. Phirum grunted as he felt the wooden splinters dig into his hands and knees.
The trip was long, and with each pothole the cart would strike; Phirum tried not to grunt. There was no reason to give the Khmer Rouge soldiers a reason to beat him. Finally, the wagon came to a stop and Phirum was unceremoniously dumped to the ground. His captors yanked the blindfold from his eyes.
Phirum’s heart leapt for a brief moment as he recognized his old high school, until he realized that the compound was now surrounded by barbed-wire and classrooms now had bars over them. A guard shoved him forward while laughing as his heart sank into his stomach.
“Welcome to Security Prison 21, your own personal nightmare.”
Still bound, they drug Phirum into a room and stood him against the wall. A flash of light, a shutter snapped, and his picture was etched forever in the eye of the camera. He blinked several times as the interrogation began.
Minutes slowly ticked by, growing into hours but it seemed that the soldiers weren’t satisfied. They struck him several times before finally, as the sun slowly sank into the horizon, they placed Phirum’s legs in shackles and then escorted him to a refurbished classroom.
Just one of many rules that Phirum had to learn...
As his fellow prisoners shuffled in for the night, he wept; he knew there was no escape.
The events that the author portrayed is real, though the main character, Phirum is not. To find more information about the Cambodia genocide please go to: http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/Genocide/pol_pot.htm
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